Thursday, September 29, 2005

Last Minute Flurry

Having spent more time in court this week than I usually do, entertained four houseguests for two days, and tied up many loose ends around the house, I've almost run out of time to finish packing! My list goes something like contact case, raisins, umbrella, underwear, passport...After the kids are in bed I will think and make progress.

Daisy has put her foot down and said that she Will Not wear shoes with hard soles, even if she will be walking through puddles in London. So bossy. So the precious leopard spot mary janes will go back to Hanna Anderson and we will board the plane in a new pair of soft Bobux--these are pale blue with Doggies on them. I think there's a Blues' Clues thing going on but I'm ignoring it, since we don't watch.

Wish us luck!

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


I am a great believer in treats, for myself and everyone else. I have them all day long. The trick is to expand your definition of "treat". Here are some of my daily favorites:

*my cherry-print robe in summer, or my cashmere robe in winter
*putting in earrings I love
*good tea with creamy milk in it
*opening windows
*putting a baby down for a nap or getting a baby up after a nap
*sitting down with a snack in the afternoon
*listening to a current favorite CD in the car instead of the news
*clean floors
*empty laundry baskets
*going for a walk
*going for a swim
*clean kitchen counters
*wearing flattering clothes
*a tidy car
*miniature bottles of Perrier
*flowers in the house--even if they're weeds
*and of course, lots of sugar from everyone in the house

Treats! The more the better.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Schoolhouse Pancakes

Cooking breakfast for my family is one of those things that make me feel like I'm really on top of my job. Pancakes and waffles are a staple--everyone likes them, they're quick (pancakes especially), and the cleanup is minimal.

This recipe can be made as is (dairy-free, as things are around here), or just substitute regular milk for the rice milk; real milk makes a nicer-textured pancake. Some day Giles will be in college and we'll eat dairy at every meal!

Schoolhouse Pancakes

1 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. unbleached white flour
2 T. sugar
1 t. salt
2 T. baking powder
4 T. oil
2 eggs
1 1/2 c. rice, soy, or regular milk

Stir together dry ingredients. Mix in the rest. If batter seems thick, add more milk, or just add water. I like this on the thin side to make thinner pancakes. Cook on non-stick griddle.

P.S. Every large family should possess an electric non-stick griddle. This will cook your family's pancakes in no time flat, and hardly even needs to be washed.

P.P.S Children love to have chocolate chips sprinkled on their pancakes before they are turned. Chocolate chip pancakes are very similar to giant chocolate chip cookies, only much better for you!

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Confessions of a Former Child Prodigy

Yes, I used to be a Child Prodigy. I graduated from high school at age 16, from a prestigious liberal arts college at 18, and from law school at 21 (I took a semester off, or I would have been 20!). I took my first college course at age 13 and got an A. By the time I was 16 I had almost two years of college credit earned in college classes, and it all felt easy. I was grateful to finish my formal education quickly because then I was free to get on with what I had always felt was the real business of life--marriage and family.

God was so good to send me my husband when I least expected him, in the down time between college and law school. We met on a blind date, got engaged 35 days later, and were married within five months of our first meeting--I was a child bride of 19.

Where has all this prodigiousness gotten me? Right here. I am so content with my life--no, not content--so happy. I have felt since I was a tiny girl the call to be a wife and mother. There is no better use for my time or talent. Law is fun and exciting two or three hours a week; it is satisfying to know that I am helping people who need it. But it is a distant second to my real work, which is done at home, with my husband and children. I thank the Lord for what He had planned for me since the beginning of time, and it's my daily prayer that He will bless the work He has given me to do.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Vintage Loves: Grace Livingston Hill

I discovered the charms of Grace Livingston Hill several years ago, and have leaned heavily on her for what escapist reading I do these days. In a GLH novel, the heroine may be poverty-stricken, but her shabby frock is well-chosen and in the dim light of a fashionable restaurant, it can pass for couture, especially since she has brushed and steamed her little velvet hat until it looked like new. .

Heroines in GLH's world often tie pink ruffled organdy aprons on over their dainty cotton dresses, before stirring up waffles for their hungry families. . . They frequently stop in at drugstores for lunch, and order tomato bisque and crisp crackers. Many of them are able to run their households singlehandedly, at young ages, and keep their homes as fresh and dainty as flowers, and that without any servant at all!

I prefer the books from the 20's, 30's, and 40's--her later works--to the very earliest ones. I prefer my heroines making their way through the first part of this century, rather than her historical fiction. Check out The Enchanted Barn, Partners, A New Name, Re-Creations, Maris. . .

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Ninety-One and Still Lovely

I was able to visit my grandmother today, something I don't get to do as often as I'd like. She just lives here in town, but it seems rare that I have an hour or two to set aside with no demands, to stop in and talk. I was struck today by how beautiful she still is--she has snow-white hair that she keeps freshly set and blue eyes with a twinkle. She had on a pale green blouse and soft white cardigan and looked like the picture of old-ladyhood.

Her room in the retirement complex is always pristinely neat and clean and her African violet is watered. She does a lot of sewing--mostly making sock monkeys which sell in a booth in an antique mall.

Before she moved out of her house and into the apartment where she is now, she *always* cooked an enormous lunch. Meatloaf. Chicken and noodles. Porcupine meatballs, turkey, lima beans, green beans, cabbage, mashed potatoes, cooked carrots, cooked greens, cornbread--not all of them every day, but many on any given day! And always the offer of cottage cheese, if your plate didn't look full enough. Many days when I just had two little boys, I would time my errands so that we could "drop in" right at lunch time, and we were always rewarded. Often I would catch one or two of my brothers already eating at her table.

I have already told the Composer that I won't be covering my gray hair as it arrives. I want to be just like Nanny.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Bella's New Glasses

The lovely Bella in her new glasses!

With two parents with defective vision, I have expected *all* my birth children to need corrective lenses, but they all have perfect vision. Only Bella so far has needed glasses (and I think her birth parents had great eyesight). Who knew? We think she looks great, and about four years older.

Monday, September 19, 2005

The Novels of Raffaella Barker

My trip to England is coming up in 9 days!

The backstory:
Several months ago I loaned two books to my friend Kim: Summertime and Hens Dancing, both by Raffaella Barker (no links to the books today--I would need to harness Giles' genius for that technical feat, and he's busy). They are so wonderful; she draws such a realistic portrait of a mom of three barely hanging on in, living in the country, dreaming of a gracious life and missing by a substantial margin, but having fun anyway. Raffaella Barker can depict children's dialogue like you've only heard it in real life; it is dead on and so hilarious.

After Kim had my books for a couple of weeks, she called me up and said (imagine a magnolia-toned Southern drawl), "You can say no, but do you want to go to England with me in the fall?" Well--yes! We are going to Norfolk, where the books are set (it's rural!), several days in London, and a side trip to the Cotswolds. We both have baby girls coming along--Daisy will be 14 months and Emma 16 months.

The preparations continue apace. Today I ordered my pound notes here at the bank. Daisy's leopard-print mary janes should arrive in time for travel--I've got my fingers crossed.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Saturday: Time with Family

I love the institution of the Day Trip. Highly efficient for making family memories; no packing of suitcases; and often the occasion for a picnic, the Day Trip offers something for everyone. It's great to daydream (for example) about taking expensive, exotic trips to far-off places to let Felix bird-watch, but much better to plan to visit the excellent bird and wildlife sanctuary 20 miles away.

We got up early and left at the crack of the Composer's dawn (8:30) fortified with biscuits and bacon. We spent a couple of cool morning hours walking and driving slowly around the river bottoms in the sanctuary. Herons, an owl, egrets, mallards, mourning doves, gulls. Then on to a tiny town for a hamburger stop, and another little drive up into the mountains (these are Southern mountains, nothing major), to see the very first signs of fall--some scarlet on the sumac, sweet gums turning purple, the first monarch.

Home in time to swim, work in the garden, and grill a pork loin!

Friday, September 16, 2005

Friday: Orderly Bedrooms

I have come to enjoy cleaning my children's rooms! This is only made possible by having them do room chores all through the week, and by major decluttering.

Both Giles and Felix have, on their own recognizance, offloaded pounds and pounds of--let's call them "belongings"--out of their closets recently, and their rooms feel so much better. Clara is a keeper, displayer, and rearranger, so her room is a little harder (read: stuffed with girl treasures). Bella, on the other hand, is more of a tornado. Her room needs adult help weekly as she seems to simply generate trash. We don't know where it comes from, but fortunately she is happy to throw it away on room day. We did this yesterday while listening to Jason Harrod's "Messed-Up Everywhere Blues"--her selection.

With stuff out of the way, it's a breeze to come through dusting, vacuuming, and wiping stickies. The feeling of peace and order is more than worth the effort.

* * * * *

The summer heat has finally broken, and we had lots of rain after a month of complete drought. It feels like fall today, so we had a little celebration dinner--roast chicken, butternut squash, broccoli, fried potatoes, and a glass of Riesling for the grownups. It's so good to all be home and together and looking forward to the weekend.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Thursday: Out and About

While our weekly routine is not set in stone, Thursday seems to be the day we group our errands and appointments. Today was Bella's day--she had an eye exam and got fitted for glasses. I must say: Sweet! Little copper-colored wire-rimmed ovals on her perfect face! Then we went to the fabric store and picked out fabric for three winter dresses for her. I hadn't done much sewing for her last year because she tended to choose pants every day, while she was going to our local Christian school. For one thing, all the other girls wore pants. The teachers wore pants. For another, playground play was just easier in pants. I am delighted to see that this year, homeschooling, she is choosing dresses. She looks much sweeter, more feminine, and I get to sew for her!

* * * *

Daisy broke in her new stroller after dinner, in a short ride down the road. Stroller acclimation is crucial at this time as the two of us leave for London at the end of the month. I am thrilled to be "going abroad". The Composer offered to buy me a steamer trunk as I was pricing L.L. Bean luggage this evening (see this vintage style), but I think his tongue was in his cheek.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Wednesday: A Tidy Desktop

I need a day in the middle of the week to catch up on paperwork, to do lists, and anything that might slip through the cracks. Wednesdays are light cleaning days (just my bedroom and bathroom), so there's plenty of time to get in a good solid schoolday, if anyone has gotten behind, catch up on any undone chores, and seriously dig into paperwork and correspondence.

I am in the middle of bringing my law practice paperwork to the house rather than the office, so am not in the routine yet of generating all those papers from here. I did make sure today to list all the paperwork that's due to go out, so that when I sit down to do it, nothing will slip through the cracks.

And, I've begun work with my Katrina refugee family. This has consisted of many, many phone calls--to the family, to find out what their needs are, then to various bureaucrats, to get answers and help. I will say that everyone I have asked for assistance, from driver control to the eye doctor, has bent over backwards to accomodate me on behalf of the family I'm helping. Who, by the way, are a joy to talk to. Very emphatic and enthusiastic in a very Cajun kind of way!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Tuesday: A Clean and Shining Kitchen

Yes, Tuesday is the day for cleaning the kitchen (and usually making bread). I enjoy setting aside a day when all my cleaning is done in this room, which tends to see a *lot* of traffic, day in and day out. Today I polished the light fixtures, cleaned stovetops and microwave, scrubbed countertops, cleaned the compost cupboard, tidied one cupboard and dusted one shelf. I finished with a thorough vacuuming and then a mopping--ooh, with lavendar cleaner! When I make it to the mopping, I know I've really cleaned the kitchen.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Daisy has recently (read yesterday) become a proficient enough walker that we can all go outside in the yard and she will tool around vertically for half an hour without getting down and eating too much stuff off the ground. What fun! She spent the evening inserting herself into the big kids' game of "tennis ball", a family specialty played like kickball, but with tennis rackets and, you guessed it, a tennis ball.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Monday: Baskets of Fresh Laundry

I enjoy doing laundry. How can I complain? I load dirty things into a nice white machine, push the buttons, and clothes and linens come out clean! Then I get to hang them on the clothesline, a favorite chore. I love to see my clothes sorted into whites and colors, looking nice on the line. These last hot dry days of September, everything dries quickly. And on rainy or cold days, the dryer is nice and cozy and Felix and Clara squabble over who gets to sit on it to do schoolwork.

It's an instant gratification chore. Within a few hours, clothes are folded and back in baskets, ready to be used again. I especially like a nice stack of fresh dish towels in all their happy red, pink, and orange colors.

Daisy has inherited my love for laundry and always dashes to the indoor drying rack to hang up/remove items as she pleases. A basket of clean wet laundry will keep her busy for minutes on end, removing, sorting, and putting back. She's a well-oiled machine.

My theory on chores is that, as adults, we hate doing what we were forced to do as children--and conversely, don't mind at all doing the things we weren't allowed or encouraged to do. My mother never let us touch the laundry; I fear I'm perpetrating the same selfish "cycle" in my own home. Be that as it may, I'm keeping it for myself. The children can climb into their fresh white sheets tonight and dream of the day when they get to do their own laundry.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Schoolhouse Photo

I love this picture; it's the earliest picture of our home that I have found, and it also came to us in a wonderful way. Eleven years ago my husband and I were hanging out here in town, thinking about buying this house (we lived in the city 75 miles away). We stopped in an antique store to poke around, and the Composer was flipping through a box of old portraits. He picked one up labelled "Fair View School", but when he looked closer (as you can too now!) he saw that it was indeed "Pleasant View School", the home we were thinking of buying. That sealed the deal for us, as we considered it to be one of those quiet whispers from God steering us this way instead of that.

So here we are today! The building exterior looks a lot like it did back then, only it has been painted red ever since it's been a home. We still, occasionally, have strangers pull up the driveway to tell us that they went to school here, or that their father taught here. And of course, with our homeschooling children, it is a schoolhouse once again!

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Farmer's Market Goodies

Farmer's Market season is almost over so I made sure to get down there this morning--plus I owed a vendor for a jar of honey he gave me on trust last week when I ran out of cash!

Today's haul:

•another, bigger jar of honey
•bag of Golden Delicious apples picked this morning and still nice and crisp
•the season's last okra, for frying
•beautiful large nameless winter squash from the Vietnamese lady I love

Support your local growers!

Friday, September 09, 2005

In the Sewing Room

This week's business in the sewing room: another version of an old favorite, this time done for fall in a beautiful khaki microsuede. I've made this skirt several times. The pattern has a beautiful fit, and can be made in a subtle A-line, or as a fuller, bias-cut skirt. I like to lenthen it by about 5 inches, use an invisible zipper rather than a standard zipper, and forego the interfacing in the waistband in favor of folding the fabric in half lengthwise and having a narrower waistband.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Best Tea Ever

Every morning the alarm goes off at 6:45 and is a sort of starting gun for my daily contest with Daisy: will I or won't I be able to tiptoe past her door and into the kitchen to get my tea made before she wakes up? It's usually a draw--I get out in the kitchen and *start* the tea before she starts to bellow for rescuing.

I love my tea. I used to drink my tea through a glass darkly, with teabags from the grocery store. But now I have seen the light and order my loose tea from The lovely Houseguest Elyse introduced me to this economical treat by bringing a bag of the most fragrant, delicious tea imaginable--Cream Earl Grey--into my kitchen. I have never looked back, and have since then ordered many inexpensive tins from this website. English Breakfast is my morning standby, Irish Breakfast is a nice alternative, and the Cream Earl Grey is my after-lunch treat, when the sleepies hit.

The store brand teas (my favorite) come in big round silver tins which are also good for holding Felix's magnetic marbles.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Katrina Refugees Have Come to Town

I can't get over the fact that these people are my *neighbors*. By Sunday we had heard that there were evacuees in town and around town, staying in churches, motels, church camps, and private homes. We rounded up a Suburbanful of stuff--clothes, towels, duffel bags, toilet paper, paper towels--to take to the community center, where workers were processing incoming folks. It was a little humbling to see the enormous pile of "extra" gleaned so easily from our closets--we take such abundance for granted.

A relief today to finally be able to do something personally for these displaced people. Daisy, Bella, and I went to town and got signed up to mentor a refugee family. In the next few days we will be assigned a family to befriend--driving them around, taking them shopping, to the DMV for a driver's license, to get food stamps, etc.

St. Teresa of Avila: "Christ has no body on earth but yours. No hands but yours, no feet but yours. You are the eyes through which He is to look out His compassion to the world, yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good, yours the hands with which He is to bless now."

Monday, September 05, 2005

Schoolhouse Chili

I love Labor Day; nothing to do except get together with family and make good things to eat, go for one last dip in the backyard pool, and give thanks for a summer full of blessings.

Today's menu:

•Schoolhouse Chili
•Excellent Cornbread
•Cole Slaw
•Homemade Peach-Raspberry Ice Cream

A side note on chili--a couple of years ago my irrepressible brother Josh talked my husband and me into going with him to judge the Chili Cookoff at the town festival. How bad could it be, seeing that these cooks all prided themselves on their chili? Unspeakably bad, actually. I remember spitting out many of the twelve samples, unable to finish even one bite.

Schoolhouse Chili is no-nonsense, never fail, can't go wrong chili. Enjoy!

2 lbs. ground beef
1 large onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large can diced or crushed tomatoes
2 cans kidney beans
scant 1/2 cup chili powder
2 t. salt

Brown beef, onion, and garlic. If necessary, drain grease before proceeding further. Mix in tomatoes, beans (undrained), chili powder, and salt. Bring to a boil, then turn heat down to a bare simmer. Allow to simmer with occasional stirring for at least 2 hours, or up to 5 hours. Long simmering will cause chili to thicken somewhat and darken to a delicious burnt sienna.

Variation #1: Cook chili at Grandpa's cabin and eat after swimming in the Little Mulberry.
Variation #2: For Frito Chili Pie, fill each serving bowl 1/3 with Fritos. Ladle on chili, then top with grated cheese.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Illness and Inconvenience

Once more unable to go to church because of sick children, I am home on Sunday morning with Daisy, who finds herself empowered, rather than enfeebled, by her cold. In fact, yesterday she was able to go the entire day with no sleep at all! The only unpleasant side effect she experiences is the shocking and insulting mess on her hands after she scrubs her itchy nose.

When is it a good time to be sick? I've often resented illness, both mine and my family's, for "stealing" my time. Edith Schaeffer reminds me that, "When illness hits we should remember that this period of time is part of the whole of life. This is not just a non-time to be shoved aside, but a portion of time that counts. It is part of the well person's life, as well as part of the sick person's life."

Read more of her excellent book What Is a Family? for inspiring and practical suggestions for making special time out of down time.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Schoolhouse Whole Wheat Bread

I have been making this bread once a week for about twelve years now. Good days come and good days go, but a fresh loaf of bread is always a blessing.

Schoolhouse Whole Wheat Bread:

(Note: I make this with my Whisper Mill Grain Grinder and my Bosch mixer, investments which have paid for themselves many times over. Without these, you may want to make up half the dough at a time for ease in kneading, and use storebought flour: variation follows).

12 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups unbleached white flour
5 cups warm water
4 t. salt
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup oil
3 T. yeast

Knead until dough is soft and cohesive. Let rise for about 90 minutes, until about double in bulk. Divide into fourths, shape into loaves, and allow to rise again in greased 8-inch bread pans. Bake at 375˚ for half an hour.

If using storebought flour, use 7 cups white and 7 cups wheat, or your loaf will be a brick.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Art Walk

Tonight our little town had its very own Art Walk. Downtown businesses each sponsored an artist who was invited to set up a small show of their artwork, and everyone served drinks and snacks. I set up some watercolor collages at the ancient corner drug store. One entire wall boasts Breyer horses, including some special Holiday Editions from several years ago. Also many retro drugstore products I had never seen before and couldn't imagine anyone buying.

The family stopped in to see me towards the end of the evening. Daisy, my one year old, quickly commandeered two small plastic dogs for herself, then demanded M&M's off the snack table. Bella, age 8, gave serious consideration to the purchase of a sparkling, purple furry phone--a REAL phone--despite the fact that she has no phone jack. Decided against it.

I did sell one piece: the watercolor I had mistakenly labelled with way too low of a price earlier in the day. But it was nice not to have to carry it home.

I can see why people like nightlife.


I swore I would venture into blogworld *all by myself* and did in fact succeed in creating several blogs that do not exist, as well as using up all the user id's I could think of, before my husband came along and rescued me in my usual state of being outsmarted by my computer.

Now that I'm here, though, I'm looking forward to posting about my life at home with my five beautiful children. I love being home, taking care of my family, and living the life of incredible blessing that for some reason the Lord has seen fit to give me.

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